Prepare Now Because Retirement is Coming Later

Whether you’re 16 and just entering the workforce or 66 and can start collecting Social Security, retirement should always be on your mind. Unfortunately, many people don’t seriously consider it until later in life. Here are four quick questions you should ask yourself now because retirement is coming later.

When should I retire?

Just because you could start Social Security at 62, doesn’t mean you should retire then. Most people do so between the ages of 61 and 69, but if you apply for benefits before you’re 67 — if you were born after 1960 — you’ll receive a reduced amount. On the other hand, if you delay beyond your full retirement age, you’ll collect more. Circumstances could change as you approach this stage in life, but having a specific age in mind allows you to set appropriate goals.

Where am I going to live?

Believe it or not, where you choose to settle can affect your retirement plan. Cost of living varies from city to city, and you may not want a big yard or need as much space. Some people stay close to family members while others take up residence in a retirement community. Make a note of places where you’d consider living. Go on vacation there to see how you like them. Make sure to visit in both the summer and the winter to see if the seasonal extremes suit you.

How can I save enough?

Many employers offer a 401(k) plan and some will even match your contribution, allowing for more accumulation. But you don’t need to depend on your job to help you save; you can invest in an individual retirement account, or IRA. America First offers traditional and Roth IRAs, as well as financial counseling to help you maximize your earnings.

How much should I save for retirement?

While the precise amount will depend on your situation, most experts recommend saving 10 to 15% of your income, starting in your 20s. You should also assess your living expenses and the type of lifestyle you desire when you retire. You can also use our simple & free retirement calculators to get more concrete numbers regarding the level of savings you’ll need to live comfortably.

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Traveling Abroad on a Budget

When people think of visiting popular overseas destinations like London, Paris or Japan, they’re often concerned with extravagant hotels, overpriced food and costly flights. However, a big trip doesn’t have to bring big expenditures. In fact, with a little planning and some self-discipline, traveling abroad on a budget can be relatively simple.

Economical Travel

One of the easiest ways to save is by going during the off-season. In Europe, for example, this is between October and April. Flights are usually cheaper, as are hotels, restaurants and fuel.

Don’t just take the first flight that fits your departure and return dates — do your research. If you’re willing to sacrifice some time, it can be cheaper to have some layovers. For instance, it may cost less to fly into Ireland, then catch the connecting flight to Paris, than it is to go directly to Charles de Gaulle.

If you’re traveling alone or as a couple, use public transportation when possible. In London, an Oyster Card gives you access to the subway, bus, railways and boats for less than the price of renting a car and paying for gas. On the other hand, if you’re with a group of adults, splitting the price of a single rental car could be more cost-effective.

Modest Accommodations

Skipping the main tourist season means you’ll already spend less on accommodations, but you don’t have to rely on hotels. Many bed-and-breakfasts offer rooms at lower rates and sometimes provide plenty of free amenities. Hostels are an option, and you can look up pictures and reviews online before booking. You can also try home exchanges or hospitality services, such as Airbnb to see what kind of deals are available.

Cheaper Cuisine

If you have access to a kitchen, consider buying groceries and making your own meals instead of eating out. Look for what’s in season and take advantage of the local produce. Additionally, you can pick up groceries that don’t have to be cooked and stop for a picnic.

If you’re vacationing on a budget, three meals a day isn’t necessary. Dinners at restaurants is usually the most expensive, so by eating a big lunch and only snacking for the rest of the day, you’ll save some money and some calories, too.

Inexpensive Entertainment

Check out a guidebook — printed or online — before beginning your journey and look for free tours, good hikes, scenic locations and other inexpensive excursions. Search for deals and discounts on entertainment. Once you reach your destination, talk to locals about their favorite sights and activities. You may discover adventures, vistas and prices most tourists don’t find.

If want to bring souvenirs home, avoid airport and hotel gift shops. Look for flea markets, farmer’s markets and swap meets. Not only will you be able to purchase handmade items from local residents, many vendors are open to bartering, letting you walk away with a great bargain.

Finally, if you’re planning on international travel, make sure to notify your financial institution. This will help prevent any unnecessary issues with your credit cards. America First is also part of the CO-OP Network, which allows you to get cash from any ATM in that partnership without paying fees.

Traveling to another country does require some financial preparation, but these money-saving tips should help the price tag become more manageable.

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Six Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying your first home can be intimidating. After all, making the leap from renting to ownership should not be taken lightly. However, with proper preparation and planning, you’ll find it’s not as scary as it seems. Here are six tips for first-time homebuyers.

1. Make Sure You’re Ready

Before purchasing a house, you’ll need to be willing to plant some roots. It takes time to build equity and experts suggest staying in a home for at least five to seven years to make it worth the investment. Plus, selling isn’t as easy as not renewing the lease on your apartment.

Next, check your credit score. A good one — 700 or above — usually means you can get a lower interest rate on your mortgage loan. And that means a smaller monthly payment. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll be paying utility bills, insurances and, in some cases, association (HOA) fees. Figuring out how much you can afford now will help prevent financial stress down the road.

And you’ll have to plan for a down payment. Most mortgage lenders require 3% to 5% of the price up front. However, you don’t want to completely deplete your savings, because it’s important to maintain an emergency fund. Steady income and smart spending are essential when you make the decision to become a homeowner.

2. Prioritize What You Want & Need

Come up with a list of features you want in your future residence. This may include size, design, location and area crime rates. This will help narrow your search. Differentiate between needs and wants. There’s no such thing as the perfect house, so you also need to decide what’s flexible and what are deal-breakers.

3. Find a Real Estate Agent

It’s crucial to work with a Realtor you trust. Choose someone with experience in the neighborhoods you’re considering, then talk to friends and family about their past buying and selling situations. Interview several real estate agents to find someone with whom you are comfortable.

4. Get Pre-Qualified

It’s important to seek loan pre-qualification to know what you can afford. This also makes the mortgage application go faster when you find the property you want. America First can help you through this process and determine which loan best meets your needs and financial goals.

5. Make an Offer

Once you find the house you love, it’s time to make an offer. Your Realtor can help you in coming up with something reasonable and communicate it to the seller. It’s acceptable to offer slightly less than the asking price, but some sellers are willing to negotiate and others are not.

6. Inspections are Key

Never buy a home until you have it inspected. There could be serious flaws, such as mold, structural damage, wiring issues or plumbing problems that could end up costing you in the long run. Hire a professional inspector and make sure to read the report thoroughly. Resolve anything major before you close.

Following these guidelines should provide first-time homebuyers with some stress relief. You can also check realestate.americafirst.com and search for local homes by location, price and type, as well as bathrooms and bedrooms.

Happy house hunting!

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Standby Power: Unplug & Save

Take a moment to think about every device you have plugged in at home. Now consider how many of those actually need to be.

The truth is, most electronics don’t always have to be attached to outlets. In fact, many of these perpetually plugged-in gadgets still use power when they’re turned off, costing you money you didn’t even know you were spending.

What Is the Standby Power Price Tag?

The average household routinely leaves around 40 appliances plugged in 24 hours a day. The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that standby power — also known as leaking electricity, phantom load or vampire draw — can account for up to 10% of your annual electric bill. That means you could be throwing over $100 annually down the electrical drain.

What Are the Culprits?

Certain things like refrigerators and DVRs need to stay hooked up, for obvious reasons. However, identifying problem electronics can help you save some money. Older items with manual knobs, switches & dials, didn’t use a lot of standby power. Almost everything these days comes with a digital display. LED lights don’t use a lot of energy by themselves, but if you see a light on when something is turned off, it’s a power sucker. Computers, laptops, TVs, cable boxes, gaming consoles, coffeemakers and iPod docking stations are some of the biggest culprits when it comes to standby power usage.

How Do I Prevent Power Leaks?

The simple answer is to unplug devices when you’re not using them. While this seems like common sense, it can be a little tricky in practice. After all, no one wants to do that with 40 products when they leave for work, then hook them back in when they get home. The idea is to determine what you can unplug and connect those devices to a power strip. That way, you can easily switch all of them on and off as needed. If a daily disconnect is too daunting, consider doing it when you go on vacation or take a weekend getaway.

As you can see, unplugging unnecessary electronics is not only good for the environment, it’s also beneficial for your wallet. Plus, once you’ve gotten into the habit, you can take that extra money and invest it in an America First dedicated savings account, earning dividends instead of letting it slip away through a power outlet.